Illustration by Dave van Patten

Internet Heroes: The Mind-Bending Fan Art of @Tw1tterPicasso

The Twitter illustrator is our first Internet Hero, a series celebrating people who make the internet a chiller place to be

Little is known about the personal life of the artist known as Twitter Picasso, but rumors suggest that he is over 300 years old. (There is no such rumor, but he’d like to start one.) He worked in seeming obscurity until this summer, when he was vaulted to internet stardom. Armed with a pen and the handle @Tw1tterPicasso, he has successfully skewered our concept of self-image in the age of the selfie, producing endless portraits of celebrities — from the Kardashians to Gucci Mane to Peyton Manning — and nobodies alike. He’s also done a thread of Dragon Ball Z characters “if they were drawn realistic.”

A more serious critic would attempt to describe the exact appeal of his style, but why bother? These pictures are flat-out hilarious, and often deranged. They’re addicting. They’re perfect. And the more you look at them, the more you see: Each of Twitter Picasso’s masterpieces goes viral as his followers notice all the baffling, tiny details he’s buried in his virtuoso compositions.

https://twitter.com/deadgayboone/status/809746137968246784

I got ahold of Twitter Picasso via Twitter DM to ask him about his process, his fame and his place in art history. After we worked out some glitches with time zones (and one or the other of us being too drunk to conduct an interview at a given hour), we had a most illuminating conversation.

So when did you get started with the fan art? Do you remember your first subject?
Okay, so I first started this account back in July, I think I had about 50 followers. The first person I drew was @JamaicanHoney; she still hasn’t replied to this day lol. Someone on my timeline [quoted] it and then I started getting heaps of people tweeting about it laughing and I literally drew everyone that mentioned it.

That’s awesome. So you’ll draw pretty much any person you come across on Twitter, assuming they have a photo of themselves somewhere? Have you started to get more selective since you blew up?
Oh yeah. When I started the drawings took like 2 minutes each, now they take 2 minutes just for the eyes. I’ve improved a lot as you can see:

I tried to make the Idris Elba as realistic as possible so it looks like the drawing is actually looking at you. But I’m more selective now; I draw photos I know I can definitely make funny or people that are really big fans and always in my mentions. Or just people that PayPal me.

That’s funny — in some ways this seems like a return to the historical norm of portraiture? You’ll work on commission, for what we might call patrons of the arts? It’s like the Renaissance!
[To be honest], all them Renaissance artists weren’t that good. I’ve drawn better stuff on paper beer coasters at the pub.

I would say, too, that those painters tried to capture something about the personalities of the royalty and popes and wealthy merchants they were painting. Is that a priority for you as well?
Hmm. Most [of] the people I draw [at] random and I know nothing about. But to be a great artist you gotta notice small things and bring attention to them, and I feel I do that very well.

I wouldn’t say you draw caricatures, because those artists tend to exaggerate obvious physical features, whereas you seem to pick unexpected details to distort and emphasize. Or you do something formally surprising — like when you ran out of ink when drawing that one girl’s hair. Or is that not at all how you approach your work?
Yeah my style is realism, but I like to put a little twist on it. I find normal realism drawings boring. Sometimes you gotta give people 14 fingers and 39 teeth. Something that will make people remember the drawing.

I love that. By the way, do you have any formal training? Have you drawn all your life?
No, my mum’s an artist too, she taught me.

Do you have a favorite drawing you’ve done? Is there one that’s sparked a lot of heat, even a backlash? I’ve also noticed that your work gets stolen sometimes.
My favorite drawing is probably the one I’ve done of Michael Jordan or my NBA fan art thread. Whenever I draw a picture someone is gonna complain about it regardless. But I have never deleted a picture. Yeah, a lot of people steal my drawings, but I have all the originals buried in my backyard.

OK, I’m sold. I just sent you $5 on PayPal, and here’s a selfie I think you could have fun with.
All done mate. Do you want me to send it through here or can I tweet it?

Tweet it, yo! I’m psyched.
Haha got u.

Hell yes, this owns. Exquisite.
Glad you like it mate.